Originally created 12/30/04

Engler fighting back after tragic crash



If John Engler filled out a form that asked for his profession, he'd write "professional golfer."

It doesn't matter that Engler isn't a member of a pro tour for 2005, or that he hasn't been on one since a car accident in early 2003 nearly took his life.

In his mind, the 26-year-old Augustan is a touring golf pro, just as he was in 2002 when he qualified for and played a full season on the PGA Tour's developmental Nationwide Tour.

The next season, Engler was continuing his quest to make the PGA Tour, playing on the NGA/Hooters Tour.

But on March 23, 2003, Engler was involved in the accident in Johnson County, Ga., that took two people's lives, and nearly his.

Because of injuries suffered in the wreck, including a compound dislocation of his right ankle and a concussion, Engler couldn't walk on his own for four months. Two months after that, Engler suffered the first of three staph infections in his leg, each of which slowed his recovery because they required surgery.

The last of those surgeries came during Christmas week of 2003. He was released from the hospital at 6 p.m. on Christmas Eve that year.

"You've got to keep in perspective that last Christmas he was in the hospital from his last surgery," said Doug Engler, John's father. "We had a prayer about that this Christmas."

It was 13 months after the accident before Engler could play tournament golf, but still not on a regular basis.

He returned for the Kandy Waters Memorial Classic in McCormick, S.C., in April 2004, finishing tied for 22nd. He played in two other Hooters Tour events and failed to make it through Monday qualifying in three Nationwide Tour events.

Although Engler didn't make it past the first stage of the PGA Tour's Qualifying

Tournament in the fall, he did shoot 5-under for the event.

"That got me fired up for things to come," Engler said.

He's still undergoing rehabilitation on his ankle and working out every day from one to four hours, he said.

Because of his rehabilitation, Engler can't push himself back into the world of tournament golf.

"With the rehab going on, he's not playing enough golf to be at the level he needs to be to compete," Doug Engler said. "That's still to come."

For now, Engler's working as a project manager at McKnight Construction Co., in Augusta, and will probably go through some Monday qualifiers for the Hooters Tour and the Nationwide Tour, when it kicks off the U.S. portion of its season in late March.

"I've still got quite a bit of rehabilitation to go, so I'm working for my family some and continuing to practice and rehab," Engler said.

After the accident, Engler remembers what some doctors said: that he'd never be able to walk while playing golf .

Proving them wrong has given him a more positive outlook on the mental side of golf, which can frustrate even the most talented player.

"The rehabilitation has helped me a lot in being able to relax and have a good time on the golf course," Engler said.

"The big picture becomes much clearer. I recognize how quickly golf can be taken away and how awesome it is to be on the golf course.

"You take for granted sometimes when you're grinding how lucky you are and how much fun it is to play golf."

Engler's ongoing comeback from the accident earned him a nomination from the Golf Writers' Association of America for its 2004 Ben Hogan Award. The results of the award, which goes to a golfer who overcomes physical adversity to remain active in the game, will be announced in early 2005.

"I'm still a little bit shocked," Engler said of the nomination.

Engler is a former All-America at Clemson, where he was the medalist in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament as a senior. Four of his former Clemson teammates - former roommate Jonathan Byrd, D.J. Trahan, Charles Warren and Lucas Glover - are on the PGA Tour for 2005.

"When I look out and see Lucas, D.J. and the guys I played with and competed with and - say what you want - beat in competition, does it bother me?" Engler asked. "I don't think it does. It goes back to everything happens for a reason. Those guys have worked hard. I think it's awesome they're out there. It drives me more knowing that I can get out there where they are."

Clemson still sees Engler as a tour golfer. Earlier this month, he was included along with Byrd, Trahan, Glover and Warren in the school's annual "Friends of Clemson Golf" fund-raiser in Greenville, S.C.

"That's what they consider him, and he considers himself," Doug Engler said .

Engler's father said he can still "see the fire" inside his son to play professionally. It's just a question of when he'll be healthy enough to attack the game full time.

"I'm not giving myself a deadline, not trying to get too far ahead of myself in that sort of thinking," Engler said. "I recognize how important and fun it is to be able to play golf and walk, and to do things people said would not be possible because of my accident."

Reach David Westin at (706) 724-0851 or david.westin@augustachronicle.com.